Sunday, August 23, 2015

Schools and Schoolmasters - Article XI - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, & Neighbourhood – Part D

Article XI written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 29 January 1880 – Part D

“The next in importance to the ministers was the schoolmaster. I have no recollection of any of them but Messrs Macdonald and Mackay. Murdoch Mackay was the one who taught me all the schooling I ever got. The custom was to be six months at school and other six months absent at work; and one forgot in that time almost all he learned in the preceding six months.

Mr Mackay was a strict disciplinarian, and every breach of school rules received its due reward but he was a very kind-hearted man withal. I am glad to understand that he is still alive, and between him and myself there has existed ever since my school days the most endearing friendship.

At the Disruption he sided with the non-intrusion party, and was considered incapable of teaching in that school, as he had imbibed the Free Church heresy. He had to leave the comfortable house and school, and remove to Ramscraigs where a house was got and fitted up for a school-house. It was not of the most comfortable kind, and would cut a sorry figure in the present day, with our costly board schools, but he laboured faithfully and indefatigably, much and justly respected by the whole community, and when he retired from teaching in the district where he had laboured for 50 years, he was followed to his retirement with the best wishes of the entire community.”

A Native of Badbea.
(To be continued)

My Comments:

Alexander Gunn’s article has a few gaps in the timing of the houses the school teacher Murdoch Mackay lived in. I have tried to work that out.

In the previous blog I quoted from the Annals of the Disruption about the hardships of living for both the Berriedale minister and the schoolteacher after the Disruption:-
To recap, Mr Campbell the minister says, “The teacher and myself lived in a most miserable place. The people would not dare to receive us into their houses.”

The conditions were clearly appalling for both the minister and the teacher but one difference between the two is that the minister was unmarried while the teacher had a wife, Margaret, and children. It seems extraordinary that the record quoting Mr Campbell does not mention the wife and children of the school teacher. I will try to rectify that record and raise a flag for Margaret Mackay and the hardships she suffered as the wife of the school teacher after the Disruption.

1841 Census Murdoch Mackay copy
Census 1841 Berriedale

  • Margaret’s House One: Berriedale, Two rooms and a Closet.

The 1841 census records show the Mackay family in Berriedale living in the regular or ‘General Assembly’ school house. Murdoch and Margaret MS Gunn had married on 11 March 1836. In the 1841 census, Murdoch the school teacher is age 40, his wife Margaret is 30 & they have two young daughters – Christian and Johanna plus a Female Servant. One record I have says, “The building which was designated the 'School' (at Berriedale), must, I am inclined to think, have been intended for a crofter's dwelling. The school room was a small room with a couple of small windows facing to the south, and the one doorway at the eastern end. Adjoining the schoolroom were two rooms and a 'closet', the abode of the dominie.” [dominie is the Scottish word for school master]. Roydhouse 1975 quoting Gunn.

  • Margaret’s House Two: Lower Borgue. Miserable and Utterly appalling.

After the Disruption, “The teacher, therefore, put a temporary roof upon the ruin of an old cottage. In that miserable place we lived for seven years. ... If there were heavy rain during the night, there was a pool of water before my bed to welcome my rising in the morning. If there was high wind, the ashes were blown up in my face. The wind had free course under the foundation, the house having been built upon a heap of stones. It was so damp and cold that I had to wear my greatcoat at the fireside. I felt, by degrees, that my life was in danger. My feet began to swell much from the dampness of the place.”

Robert and William Mackay birth
Birth record Robert and William Mackay

The birth records for the two Mackay sons Robert and William shows them being born in Lower Borgie which was probably this awful house. The only privacy that Margaret had would have been the curtains around her bed - as was the custom. And she had the local minister living with the family for years. That the family survived the hardships is remarkable and much must be attributed to her tenacity.

                  Bedroom at the Strathnaver Museum

  •  Margaret's House Three. Ramscraigs. Overcrowded Damp and Uncomfortable

Mr Campbell continues: " Feeling my life thus exposed to danger, I set about building a school-house and teacher's dwelling-house—the teacher's house first. We entered the teacher's house before it was plastered. We had to remove from one room to another till it was finished. It was very damp and uncomfortable, but better than the place we were in."  I think this was probably the house at Ramscraigs.
Ramscraigs Ruin at Borgue
Ruin at Ramscraigs Ruin at Borgue

The 1851 census shows the Mackays living at Ramscraigs. According the Alexander Gunn the house “…was not of the most comfortable kind, and would cut a sorry figure in the present day.” The family has grown to six children. Four other adults are living in the house, still including the minister Mr Campbell. Margaret Mackay is now also working as a teacher of the Female pupils. How did she do everything?

1851 Census Samuel Campbell copy
Census 1851 Berriedale. Ramscraigs Schoolhouse

  • Margaret’s House Four: Edinburgh. Unhealthy and Unacceptable.

“Following his retirement after many years at Ramscraigs, with his wife and members of his family, Murdoch Mackay went to live in Edinburgh. Possibly this was because his daughter, Miss Johan Mackay, was in business in that locality. Residence in Edinburgh appears not to have been either healthy nor acceptable for the old dominie, and he with his wife soon tired of Edinburgh and returned to their own hearth, living out their days in the area of Clyth.”Roydhouse 1975. Clyth is a coastal village just a few kilometres north of Ramscraigs.

Churches and old cottage at Bruan Near East Clyth
Churches and old cottage at Bruan. The old cottage centre left is probably at Bruan Mission.
One of many ruined houses near East Clyth, is a typical Caithness croft house as seen at the nearby Laidhay Museum.

  • Margaret’s House Five: Bruan Mission. Hearth and Home

It would be nice to think that Margaret and Murdoch had a comfortable house in their retirement. The 1881 census shows them living in Bruan Mission, near East Clyth. Murdoch (Murdo) is shown as superannuated, so giving them a small pension on which to live.

29 1 1880 NE (Article XI) School master A 29 1 1880 NE (Article XI) School master B

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